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The grotesque body is a concept, or literary trope, put forward by Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin in his study of Francois Rabelais' work. The essential principle of grotesque realism is degradation, the lowering of all that is abstract, spiritual, noble, and ideal to the material level. Through the use of the grotesque body in his novels, Rabelais related political conflicts to human physiology. In this way, Rabelais used the concept as "a figure of unruly biological and social exchange".[1]

It is by means of this information that Bakhtin pinpoints two important subtexts: the first is carnival (carnivalesque) which Bakhtin describes as a social institution, and the second is grotesque realism (grotesque body) which is defined as a literary mode. Thus, in Rabelais and His World Bakhtin studies the interaction between the social and the literary, as well as the meaning of the body.[2].

Italian satirist Daniele Luttazzi explained: "satire exhibits the grotesque body, which is dominated by the primary needs (eating, drinking, defecating, urinating, sex) to celebrate the victory of life: the social and the corporeal are joyfully joint in something indivisible, universal and beneficial".[3]

Bakhtin explained how the grotesque body is a celebration of the cycle of life: the grotesque body is a comic figure of profound ambivalence: its positive meaning is linked to birth and renewal and its negative meaning is linked to death and decay.[4] In Rabelais' epoch (1500-1800) "it was appropriate to ridicule the king and clergy, to use dung and urine to degrade; this was not to just mock, it was to unleash what Bakhtin saw as the people’s power, to renew and regenerate the entire social system. It was the power of the people’s festive-carnival, a way to turn the official spectacle inside-out and upside down, just for a while; long enough to make an impression on the participating official stratum. With the advent of modernity (science, technology, industrial revolution), the mechanistic overtook the organic, and the officialdom no longer came to join in festive-carnival. The bodily lower stratum of humor dualized from the upper stratum."[5]

See also


  1. ^ "Perforations: Grotesque Corpus". Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  2. ^ Clark, Katerina and Michael Holquist 297-299, Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  3. ^ "Se Dio avesse voluto che credessimo in lui, sarebbe esistito (in Italian)". Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  4. ^ "Brazen Brides Grotesque Daughters Treacherous Mothers by Felicity Collins (Bakhtin, 308-317)". Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  5. ^ Boje, David M. [1] (March 2004). "Grotesque Method" (PDF). Proceedings of First International Co-sponsored Conference, Research methods Division, Academy of Management: Crossing Frontiers in Quantitative and Qualitative Research methods. 2: 1085–1114. 


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